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Playing Well with Others

If Simon is to continue being an only child, it’s important to me that he learn to share and play well with others. That’s one of the reasons I began looking into pre-schools last summer and put him on the pre-registration list at Kenneseth Israel (KI).

Friday, February 29, I went to check the program out in person and process our official paperwork. Things are fine now, but on that day we ran into a huge obstacle right out the gate on the road to cooperation: Me.

That Friday, it really hit home that I’ve been raising Simon in a bubble. I’ve had strong opinions about what he eats, how he’s diapered, and what he reads and plays with, and because Matt has agreed with me, I’ve always gotten my way. Beginning with classes next August, my streak is going to come to an end, and I’m pretty anxious about it.

KI doesn’t allow cloth diapers right now, and they’re pretty sure that they can’t and/or won’t make an exception for me. That means that for 4 hours or so 4 days a week, Simon will be in Seventh Generation disposables instead of his Fuzzi Bunz. I’m wasn’t happy to hear that.

Then there is the food. Simon will be getting snacks during the day and having lunch at least twice a week. I looked at the menu, and the vast majority of it was what Simon eats now. With two HUGE exceptions: The first is that they serve meat-heavily processed non-organic, non pastured meat. The easy fix to that is to check the “vegetarian” box on his school registration sheet.

But the next issue, and one without a tidy solution, is that they also serve non-organic milk, cheese, and yogurt-products that are full of the hormones I have steadfastly avoided feeding my family. I put on a reasonably decent face about being relaxed about my eating preferences in public because I understand that what you eat is personal, and like politics and religion, it is best left out of the discussion unless you are surrounded by like minds. But the truth is, I’m a zealot at heart, and the KI cupboard is a source of distress to me.

By the evening of the day of my visit, I was so upset that I began to consider using a nanny for one more year. It seemed to me that the KI pre-school encapsulated the problems of coming home and/or joining any institution from my youth. Specifically, that while I have connections and a history with the place, I don’t necessarily share its values any more. I have a pretty good idea of where I could find the pre-school of my dreams, but I don’t live in the Bay Area any more, either. The day of my first visit, I was very much feeling that “You can’t go home again.”

Then I picked up Terry Brazelton’s book Touchpoints over the weekend and read the section on children Simon’s age and in their second year. He wrote convincingly about how important socialization is after 18 months and discussed all the things you should look for in pre-school or outside care or provide yourself.

Keneseth has it all. They have music daily. They have hands-on exploration (they call it science) every day. Arts and crafts. Quiet time. Play time. All of it. They have 5 teachers for 13-15 children. The head teacher has been in the same class for at least 12 years, and one of the other teachers, Laura, grew up with my brother Steve. I’ve known the office administrator my whole life, and when I showed up with my paperwork she smiled at me warmly, pointed to my brothers’ names on the Bar Mitzvah plaque outside her office, and said a hearty “Welcome back to Keneseth Israel. We’ve missed you.” She then looked at the address on my check and began chatting about my neighbors two doors down who sent their daughter to KI and what a nice family they are.

That same day, I saw a group of parents and teachers working in the kitchen getting lunch ready, the littlest kids munching away in their room, and the older kids running around the auditorium just before their meal began. Backpacks lined the halls. Baskets of toys, food, and household furnishings were stacked on the unused tables in preparation for a coming auction. The rabbi walked by on his way from performing the kids’ Shabbat program. And when I asked the school director about the auction, she laughed and told me I’d be helping out next year.

Simon is all signed up, so I suppose I will indeed. What I still have to figure out-and I think it will be long journey-is how to reconcile my coming home and returning to Keneseth Israel (for pre-school anyway) with my not-so-secret inner zealot who likes to go her own way. If I can figure out the right balance, I think Simon and I will both learn much along the way.

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